Mary Fitzpatrick, Billings


NorthWestern Energy has submitted its Integrated Resource Plan to the Montana Public Service Commission. This is a 20-year projection of energy needs and how the company plans to meet those needs. It affects all NWE ratepayers.

While the PSC is charged to make sure the plan is beneficial, both to ratepayers and the company, “beneficial” is usually interpreted to refer only to cost and reliability. If we want more factors to enter into this decision by the PSC, we need to say so now.

The growing climate crisis makes NWE's plan obsolete and reckless. We need better, especially since this plan is part of a multi-decade campaign to protect fossil fuel energy.

The coal industry knew early on that fossil fuels are a problem. The Mining Congress Journal stated in August 1966: “There is evidence that the amount of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is increasing rapidly as a result of the combustion of fossil fuels… [I]t has been predicted that … the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere will increase. … Such changes in temperature will cause melting of the polar icecaps, which, in turn, would result in the inundation of many coastal cities, including New York and London.”

In response, the industry created a long-running campaign of deceit.

Robert Brulle, a professor emeritus of sociology and environmental science at Drexel University, researched 12 major groups and coalitions that argued against mandatory limitations of carbon dioxide from 1989 to 2015.

He found that the coal mining industry and the utilities burning coal were the earliest and most prominent corporate funders of campaigns trying to confuse the issue and block action on the reduction of pollution.

I have never heard NWE disavow this deceitful manipulation of public opinion. Worse yet, NorthWestern’s energy plan takes no account of climate change. In fact, the company plans to build more fossil fuel infrastructure and sink more ratepayer dollars into the continued operation of Colstrip, exposing us to decades more greenhouse gas pollution.

The company says that efficiency and conservation are priorities for it, but its actions don’t match the words. Perhaps the company will support, as it has failed to do in the last two sessions, legislation that will provide affordable financing, at no public cost, for building owners to upgrade their properties for energy efficiency. Wait and see.

This year, 2019, is on track to be the second-hottest year on record globally, and the decade soon ending will be the hottest ever recorded. Extreme weather events are costing lives and billions of dollars.

Insect-borne diseases have moved out of the tropics. Crops and fisheries are failing. People – disproportionately poor and indigenous people – are dying. Africa, the Middle East, and Central America are caught up in famine, wars, and migration that the U.S. military has warned us for years would cause world and national insecurity.

Yet NorthWestern Energy proposes to build more fossil fuel infrastructure and keep Colstrip clunking along.

How much will it cost ratepayers to operate, maintain, and repair Colstrip until 2042? How will the company pay for the plant decommissioning and cleanup of ash ponds? Who pays for a just transition for the workers and the community of Colstrip? Who pays for the company's potential financial liabilities for climate change? How is NWE preparing for a price on carbon?

We need a resource plan for today; a plan that exploits the full potential of modern technologies like smart grids, distributed generation, and storage, and that fully exploits the potential of efficiency and conservation.

This IRP is not that plan! We have until Jan. 6 to tell the PSC what we want, at https://northernplains.org/nwe-20-year-plan-comments/ or psc_utilitycomment@mt.gov.

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Mary Fitzpatrick, of Billings, is a member of Northern Plains Resource Council Clean Energy Task Force, and served on the Montana Climate Change Advisory Committee. The PSC recently extended the deadline on its comment period on the NWE plan from Jan. 3 to Jan. 6.


Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.